The term "maximizing one's potential" could have been coined to describe the life of Jimmie Walker, who strode out of the New York ghetto first to educate himself and then to become one of the best-known television personalities in the United States.
Walker was born June 25, 1947, in the depths of New York's South Bronx, famed for burnt-out buildings, pervasive neglect and disrepair but, to a very young boy, it was nothing more than "the neighborhood."
Life in the Projects centered around basketball courts and ignoring school. Jimmie never thought of performing as a potential occupation. It was basketball that held his interest, but Jimmie at fifteen was only six feet tall and weighed in at 129 pounds. He left school before graduating and worked a number of odd jobs, eventually landing a delivery job at the Grand Union Market at a salary of $47 per week - before taxes.
Making an arrangement with his boss to end each shift early, Jimmie worked all day, then attended Theodore Roosevelt High School at night until he received his diploma and information from a teacher about SEEK, the federally funded Search for Education, Evaluation and Knowledge which accepts students who need an educational "half-way house" before college. SEEK arranged for Jimmie to study the art of announcing and the trade of radio engineering at the RCA Technical Institute. Jimmie started as an engineer, which required a first-class license available only by study and by passing a test. Within a year he had earned his first-class ticket to the future.
Jimmie walked into a small radio station, WRBR, and was immediately hired as a part-time engineer at a salary of $100 per week. He continued to study at SEEK, learning about mathematics and literature. At 19, Walker had some major grammatical stumbling blocks, but his writing became stronger when he began writing for a class in Oral Interpretation - and Jimmie discovered he was a FUNNY writer. He penned a piece, delivered it to his SEEK classmates, and they howled! Asked one appreciative teenager, "Are you a comedian?" Said Walker, "I guess I am." And he was.
Now defined, Jimmie lost no time in finding his first professional gig. It was 1967, and he had left SEEK and traded up his "day job" to working at WMCA radio for $250 a week. A mutual friend then introduced him to The Last Poets. The group, dedicated to performing militant poetry, needed an opening act. Following a successful audition, Walker opened for the Poets at the East Wind in Harlem on New Year's Eve, 1967. He did five minutes, floored the crowd of 350 and stayed with the Poets for 18 months while he gained confidence and built an act.
By 1969 Jimmie performed at the African Room in Manhattan along with a few other new talents, including Bette Midler, David Brenner and Steve Landesberg. David Brenner got his break and then helped Walker and the others, moving them all to Budd Friedman's Improv in New York where they occasionally got on stage. Brenner and his "disciples" got hot at Budd's and became onstage regulars.
In those days, doing "The Tonight Show" was direct line to the Big Time. Brenner made it first, followed by Landesberg, Midler and Freddie Prinz, but by 1972 Jimmie still hadn't scored that "big break." Then Brenner, Landesberg and Midler, scheduled for the then-powerful "Jack Paar Show", refused to guest unless Walker was given a spot, and the Paar staff gave in. Jimmie's first guest shot was successful beyond anyone's expectations. Dan Rowan, who had seen the show, called for Jimmie to fly to Los Angeles to guest on a "Laugh In" special. This followed with a second guest spot on the "Jack Paar Show", and a contract with CBS to perform his act each week as the audience warmup for "Carlucci's Department" a sit-com.
The flush of success gave Walker the confidence to give up his day job in 1972. Jimmie was now working regularly in clubs. Spotted by Norman Lear's casting director, Jimmie accepted a part in a new comedy series, "Good Times". "Dyn-o-mite!" was the phrase and it was made famous nationwide. Time Magazine named him Comedian of the Decade.
It was a heady existence. The fame grew. Walker did the comedy album, "Dyn-o-mite!" and it was a best-seller, but stand-up comedy was still his first love. When the series ended a six year run in 1979, Aaron Spelling offered Walker a starring role in the short-lived "B.A.D. Cats" and returned to cast him again in 1983 in "At Ease", an ABC series about a bunch of United States Army misfits.
Walker currently tours the country 25-30 weeks a year doing his stand-up comedy, and also performs on late night T.V. and game shows. In his spare time he writes scripts for T.V. and movies.